The dashing rogue is finally coming home to claim the exquisite stranger who is living there, a willful beauty he barely knows...his bride.
The Huntsman, Gentleman's Club
"One whining, overripe Hapsburg prince deliveredsafely to the cellar door at BuckinghamPalace," Ross said, loosening his neck cloth as heslid a leather packet across the map table.
"At great risk to our personal fortunes," Drewadded with a wry smile as he dropped into a wingchair. "Gad, Jared, the man's a bloody card sharp."
"You did leave him with a quid or two, Drew,"Jared, earl of Hawkesly, asked, certain that the surlyprince wouldn't soon forget his card game with Drew.
"Two quid and his hat," Drew said, propping hispolished boots on the edge of the brass hearth fender.
"Good work, man." Jared gave Drew's shoulder an affable cuff, pleased to be home and in familiar company,and to have the matter of the prince finished soneatly.
Neatly enough to finally have time to take care ofsome long-neglected personal business.
Brushing off the glint of a perfumed memory, a moment'sguilt, Jared handed a report to each of them."Fortunately we're finished with rebellions and insolentmonarchs for the moment. A routine gun-runninginvestigation."
"Ah, that American merchant ship," Ross said, flippingthrough the pages. "The Pickering. Impounded inPortsmouth."
"Customs found two thousand rifles," Jared said,pulling a map tube out of his saddlebag, "and countlesscrates of ammunition, all of it hidden beneath a shipmentof Indian cornmeal."
"Guns and grain," Drew said, shaking his head,sobered considerably. "I'll wager they're bound forLimerick or Cork."
"My thoughts exactly." Word of the potato cropfailure had reached Jared months ago in the China Sea,a blight that seemed to have only intensified. "Doubtlessit's the Young Irelanders."
Ross tossed the report to the middle of the table."Damn fools, if they mean to rise again. With martiallaw and another seventeen thousand of Her Majesty'stroops on their way to Dublin."
"In any case," Jared said, adding Lord Grey's note tothe report, "the Home Office has given me charge ofcoastal inquiries during the trouble in Ireland. We're to investigate the captain of the Pickering, his politics, theshipping company, the receiver, the warehouses. A simple,domestic inquiry --"
"Domestic?" Drew asked, a jaunty brow cocked atJared. "An interesting choice of words, don't youthink, Ross?"
"Absolutely," Ross said, his smile scheming and wryas he stood. Hazardous to the unsuspecting. "Because,as I recall, Jared leaves this morning on a domestic mission of his own."
So that was it, the blighters.
"Possibly the most dangerous mission of his life."Drew's dark eyes glinted like knife points, an expressionas familiar as the easy drone of voices coming from the club room beyond.
"A lot you two blackguards know of marriage."Jared went to the map case beneath the bow windowand yanked open a drawer. "Think what you will; Iknow what I'm doing."
Ross laughed, pouring himself a cup of coffee fromthe samovar. "But we also know what you haven'tdone, Jared."
"Couldn't possibly have done," Drew said.
"To the devil with both of you." Grateful that hewas no longer prone to blushing like a callow lad,Jared lifted out the stash of maps and dropped themonto the top of the case.
"How long has it been since Hawkesly got married,Ross?" Drew asked. "Two years?"
"Longer than that, by my counting."
"Eighteen months, you bloody pair of magpies." Doing a lousy job of ignoring their usual blathering,Jared found the map of the western England coastlineand set it aside.
"Still, it's a loooong time to leave your bride unattended."
The thought always stopped him in motion, left onlythe briefest image, burned into his memory, impossibleto shake.
The blue-eyed mist of her...